My volunteering – ‘a source of happiness’
- Christian Heinrich
‘I had just moved from Tunisia to Bochum in 2015 for my master’s degree course in Social Science as the wave of refugees to Germany, especially from Syria, was reaching its climax. Although I'd only just arrived back myself, it wasn’t long before I felt the poignancy of the “We” in Angela Merkel’s phrase: “We can do this.” I began to commit myself to volunteering so that I too could contribute to doing something. My intensive learning of German meant that I could translate German texts, instructions and guidelines into Arabic, and thus hopefully make it easier for refugees to settle and integrate after their arrival.
My second volunteering activity five years later was more direct: in 2020 I started helping out at a psychosocial centre for refugees in Düsseldorf. I went there two to three hours a week and met with new arrivals to go for a walk or talk with them – or rather to listen. Because I’d quickly learned that many people find it helpful to have someone who simply listens to them. I met regularly with one Iranian woman who had fled from Iran due to domestic violence and we became friends.
Whether it was translating texts or working in the psychosocial centre: just giving something meant that I developed a deeper sense of belonging to society – to German society, but also in the humanistic sense to world society. That may sound pompous, but it’s precisely what makes a commitment to volunteering so special to me: I’m not doing it for money, but for a higher purpose: the welfare of others.
Working with the psychosocial centre for refugees expanded my horizons and, despite some horrific experiences that the refugees described to me, it was a source of genuine happiness. I find that the opportunity to interchange with other people is always rewarding. All the more so if I’m able to help them by doing so.’
‘I see it virtually every day in India, where I live in a suburban district of New Delhi. A commitment to volunteering is a force of many hands that together make numerous things happen, both large and small. There are countless programmes in India that are in particular committed to achieving the (SDGs). Many thousands of people from western countries visit India every year to provide assistance, even if it’s only for a few months.’
‘I too become involved in volunteering there by attempting to focus and channel this vast energy of volunteer commitment. I act as a mentor to many international students at prestigious universities, especially students involved in the fields of mechanical engineering, sustainability and innovation. These students want to visit India as volunteers and I prepare them for that: we get to know one another and exchange ideas, and I explain to the volunteers roughly what they can expect, the challenges they may face and what they should be aware of. I also inform them about the peculiarities that await them in the outlying regions in India – and I tell them how to avoid pitfalls and know how to behave in navigating the Indian social system.’
‘These interchanges can last from a few hours to several days, so we become acquainted. And I get a tremendous amount back from our exchange while I’m imparting my knowledge. Over time, for instance, I’ve developed an intercultural understanding: Europe is no longer just Europe to me, I now see more exactly what many Spaniards, Germans and English people have in common. And I’ve also got to know many of the volunteers, especially when they came to India. I reckon I’ve now got a contact in every major city in Europe and Canada. It feels like I’m networked with the world. That wasn’t really the reason for my commitment to acting in an honorary capacity – but it is one of many amazing side effects that come with volunteering.’
Read further on the Alumniportal Deutschland
Five Germany alumni, who campaign for more equality and social justice around the world, participated as experts in our round-up talk. In the interview you will learn, among other things, how the alumni are committed to more equal opportunities and equality and which specific tips they give to other committed people.
"Germany seemed perfect to me before my first visit. Yet I still had a lot to learn about the country. Nothing in my school books prepared me for that."